April 4, 2011 12:00 am

Africa needs a new business school model

Africa, it seems, must brace itself for another wave of colonisation. This time, it’s “western-style” business schools that, after ignoring Africa for decades, are now flocking to its shores with enthusiasm.

This influx has been attributed to a rising demand for business education among Africa’s growing middle class coupled with strong economic growth on the continent and a dearth of good local business schools.

 

Almost without exception, these incoming schools talk about bringing pre-existing European/US models to Africa as if this will be the answer to all of the continent’s problems. None, it seems, has paused to consider whether Africa really will benefit from what they are offering, or if they are missing an opportunity to create something better.

At a recent conference co-organised by EFMD and the Association of African Business Schools, one of the topics discussed was the paradigm/ pedagogical approach of African business schools and whether it is possible to take a success story in one part of the world and transplant it to another.

The opinions on this vary. The China Europe International Business School (Ceibs) for example, one of the “western” schools currently making inroads in Africa, is doing just this. A top school based in Shanghai, Ceibs has set up a campus in Ghana and flies in faculty to the school to teach.

In Ghana, Ceibs is referred to as the “Harvard of Africa”. But what does that mean? Does it mean that the Harvard pedagogical approach, content and developmental model is the only right one in the world?

Other schools too have made the move into Africa. Duke and Henley, for example, have campuses in South Africa. Edinburgh Business School recently launched a distance learning scholarship programme for African scholars and many US business schools send students on “edu-tourism” trips to Africa to experience some of the conditions of the emergent markets, but without stopping to engage with local business schools.

The assumption behind the approach of these western business schools is that the only way to help Africa to develop is to impose an established business school model on the continent, rather than contributing to the development of local resources. But local development is more sustainable. Money invested in developing local resources will contribute to a country’s long-term sustainability.

While there is undoubtedly a growing demand for quality business education in Africa, that cannot and should not come at the cost of local relevance. And Africa should not confuse good business schools with western-style business schools.

There are plenty of good ranked and accredited business schools in Africa. No doubt they can learn much from other schools around the world. And everybody in Africa is willing to co-operate with whoever has an interest in genuine co-development. Africans do have know-how and they do have many interesting people with their own experience and ambitions who should be involved in the process.

There are other reasons why developing an African business school model may be a good idea. With its emergent economy, characterised by uncertainty, complexity and, unfortunately, inequalities, Africa is an ideal setting for learning. It is a place where the foundation for the future of business is being laid.

The economic crisis, which many have laid at the door of the traditional Harvard model, also provides added impetus for finding a new way.

There is more at stake than a scramble for the intellectual resources of Africa. There are tremendous opportunities for companies and business schools that understand they should do it with, rather than for, the African people. It’s about building better models of business education and ultimately a more equitable world.

We can achieve more by working together and respecting multiple perspectives than we can by merely replicating past models in new contexts.

Walter Baets is director of the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, South Africa

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